Vol. XXXVII No. 8 — August 1959

The Rock

Wallace E. Caldwell, PGM

This Short Talk Bulletin is from the pen of Wallace E. Caldwell, past grand master of North Carolina, and a distinguished teacher of history at the University of North Carolina.

This Short Talk Bulletin deals with “The Rebuilding of the Temple,” but the central point of its thought is not the temple but a rock before which that structure was erected. It is a large piece of limestone, little different in appearance from countless others. Yet for three thousand years of recorded history it has been a symbol of deity, for it forms the peak of Mt. Moriah, the highest point of the High Place of Jerusalem. Curious depressions in the face of the rock indicate that from primitive times it was a “High Place,” where sacrifices were made to the god of the mountain, and it is clear that the blood of the victims was drawn off into a secret cave below. Probably no other site in the world has had as long a continuous history as a place of worship.

To the ancient Jews it represented the already-old traditions of the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, and many stories clustered around it. There Abraham received the blessing of Melchizedek, King of Salem and Priest of the Most High God. Up the slopes of Mt. Moriah toiled the Patriarch Abraham, leading his son, Isaac, by the hand, to sacrifice the child of his old age at the command of what must have seemed to him a capricious and tyrannical God, only to learn to his joy that the God he worshipped asked not for human sacrifice — the fruit of his body for the sin of his soul — but love, trust, and obedience.

Rabbinic lore wove the traditions of the rock into the greatest of the Hebrew stories. By a piece of curious etymology the rabbis equated Torah, the Law, and Moriah, the Mountain, and so made Mt. Moriah into Mt. Sinai where the Great I Am appeared unto Moses and handed down the Law.

When next in the Biblical story we hear of the rock, it had become the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite, and David was King in Jerusalem. God, angered by the disobedience of David in numbering his people, sent a dreadful pestilence upon them, until David, contrite and penitent, found the destroying angel by the threshing floor and appeased him, so that he sheathed his sword and spared the people. And on the rock David erected an altar unto the Lord.

The final step in the enshrinement of the rock came when Solomon’s Temple was oriented to it, so that from the wide doors opening to the east, the high priest looked toward it, and upon it was erected the altar of burnt offerings.

Let us turn from the rock to the Temple, built to enshrine the concept for which the rock had so long stood. Spacious and magnificent was this structure, constructed by so many celebrated artists. For its erection, great throngs of workmen were gathered from Israel and from Phoenicia. Among them was Hiram Abif, who, according to the Bible, beautified and adorned the Temple with cunning works in metals, and, who, according to Masonic tradition, became the chief architect. By Solomon’s plan and through his wisdom, neither envy, discord, nor confusion was to interrupt or disturb the peace and good fellowship among the workmen, and the building was to be the perfect dwelling place of the Most High God. Yet a legend informs us that not even King Solomon could bring this about. Human frailty, suspicion, and greed, expressed as a desire to earn more wages, entered the scene. A horrid conspiracy was formed and Hiram Abif paid with his life for his fidelity to trust. The Temple was finished, but without that final touch of the master that alone could bring perfection. Those workmen who had proved their worth were rewarded; but they received only a substitute for the master’s word, that secret that seemed to have perished with the artist!

The Temple was dedicated with elaborate ceremonies and with an eloquent and moving prayer. The rock and its accompanying House of God had become the central shrine of Judaism covenanted to that love, trust, and obedience of which Abraham had learned in the already distant past. Surely a glorious chapter in human history was beginning to be unrolled.

Yet when we read its pages, how dismal do they sound. Reckless ambition, greed for power, and dissension tore the kingdom in twain. Dynastic rivalries, leading often to plots and assassination, made leadership weak. Greed for wealth became so strong that Amos says the rich, in their grasping for land, panted after the very dust on the heads of the poor. Religion became to most but a means of securing economic well-being from reluctant gods. Not only the kings and priests but the people themselves practiced the abominations of the heathen and polluted with strange rites the House of the Lord that He had hallowed in Jerusalem. In vain did a few strong kings like Asa, Hezekiah, and Josiah endeavor to call the nation back to its allegiance. The God of their fathers sent His messengers to them, for He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place, but in vain. They mocked the messengers of God and despised His words and misused His prophets. Into the very teeth of Jeremiah they hurled their defiance.

And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings unto her . . . we had plenty to eat, and were well, and saw no evil. Since we left off . . . we have wanted all things. . . (Jeremiah 44:19, 17, 18)

And we purpose to do as we please and again make our offerings to the Queen of Heaven. Hopelessly torn asunder, weakened by dissension, and without the spirit of their fathers or faith in their fathers’ God, they fell an easy prey to their powerful enemies, the northern kingdom to the Assyrians, ancient prototype of the Nazi war-machine and new order, the southern, to the no less greedy Chaldean king of Bablyon, Nebuchadnezzar. The city was burned, the Temple destroyed, the holy vessels and the treasures carried away, and the remnant of the people that escaped the sword led captive to Babylon.

Utter misery fell upon them as slaves in a strange land. They looked everywhere for comfort.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? (Psalms 137:1-4)

The answer came from a prophet whose name is unknown but who brought glad tidings.

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God,” (Isaiah 40:1) is the opening verse of a noble work that portrayed the uniqueness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who said: “I am the Lord and there is none else, there is no God beside me. . . . I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:5, 6)

In a strange land they found that the Great I Am was with them and that they could worship him in holiness, in spirit, and in truth. Purged by the fires of catastrophe they were ready when their opportunity came. By the edicts of Cyrus of Persia and of Darius, his successor, they were allowed to return to Jerusalem for the rebuilding of the city and the House of God. Long weary miles they trudged from Babylon to Jerusalem over paths that were rough, rugged, and dangerous. Yet supported and sustained by the Great I Am, they reached their destination and set about their task. They found their reward by the rock on Mt. Moriah, in the ruins of the past, the discovery of the true word, which may perhaps be interpreted as the realization, the experience of that God whom Abraham and David and Solomon and the prophets had long before learned to know as a God of justice, even of punishment, but also of love and mercy.

By hard labor and amid poverty and suffering, the Second Temple, known as the Temple of Zerubbabel, was erected and once more the offerings were brought to the Most High God above the rock of Mt. Moriah. The Second Temple was not so pretentious as that of Solomon, but Haggai, understanding the great import of the spirit in which it was built, proclaimed rightly that “the glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former” (Haggai 2:9).

For centuries the world moved on, paying little attention to the faithful few who with difficulty preserved their traditions and followed the ancient law. Overlords of the Jews were the Persians and then Alexander of Macedon. The Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Asia fought over them and bled them white with taxes and extortions. When Antiochus, who called himself Epiphanes, “God Made Manifest,” tried to Hellenize them and to enshrine Olympian Zeus in their Temple, they revolted successfully. For a time they lived under their own kings surnamed the Maccabees, until the days of Herod, the Idumaean, who as their king, tried to please them and glorify himself by rebuilding the Temple on a sumptuous scale, but still in the presence of this ancient rock.

Yet the dreary tale unfolds itself again. Somewhere, somehow, the secret had been lost, the spark burned low. The law became ritualistic and meticulous, almost to the point of absurdity, as learned scholars, forgetting its inner significance, squabbled over details of its observance. The High Priesthood became a prize to be gained by fighting or chicanery. Worship became a source of profit to the money-changers and the sellers of sacrificial objects. Pompey, Roman general, symbol of the power and majesty of the Populus Romanus, passed by one day and paused to laugh at the foibles of this curious people. He gazed at the rock; he even brushed aside the priest and entered the Holy of Holies, but no vision came to him. He could not begin to comprehend the Deity enshrined therein.

Then Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king and a new era dawned on the world. He came to proclaim anew the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and spoke to him in thunderous tones from Sinai, Who fought at David’s side and gave wisdom to Solomon, and Who had watched over His people through the long centuries. He denounced the quibblings of the learned scribes and Pharisees, saying that He had come not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. He purged the Temple of the merchants of offerings and the money-changers. “My House shall be called the House of Prayer but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13). And the God whom He proclaimed was that same God who demanded of His followers love, trust, and obedience. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and swith all they trength . . . and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:27), was His summary of the law of God.

For His temerity in attacking authority, He paid with His life upon the cross. But His spirit and His message have never died. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . . . And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth” (John 1:1,14).

To the Jews and the Romans His life and death seemed but a minor episode. Amid a desperate world situation the Jews turned with curious longing to the dreams of a Messiah who should overthrow the Romans and rule the world from Jerusalem. Their dreams came to grief when Titus descended upon them and again destroyed the Temple; and a generation later Hadrian forbade them to climb the mountain and enter the Temple area. Judaism purged anew in this second fire became a religion, a way of life, still exercising its power in every quarter of the globe.

Hadrian, recognizing the age-old significance of the rock, rechristened its god Jupiter and built an eight-sided temple to Jupiter Capitolinus around it. Thus for a period it became a shrine of that Jupiter Optimus Maximus, to whom the Romans attributed their greatness. All the while underneath the surface of the Roman Empire the loaf was being leavened and was rising. An almost forgotten episode was forming a cornerstone for a new structure as Christianity slowly spread through the empire. In its time it triumphed and the Temple of Jupiter became a church of God of the Christian faith.

Not even yet has the full tale of the rock been told. Mohammed preached his doctrine of Islam to the Arabs. In the holy wars that followed, Jerusalem fell into their hands and on the site of the church was built the Mosque of Omar. A curious tale appeared among the Muslims. Allah, as was fitting, dwelt by the rock but Mohammed was in Mecca. Allah summoned his prophet, who, with his seven league boots, came in mighty strides at the order of the One True God. He landed on the rock with such force that he made his footprint in its solid surface, and there it is today for the curious to see.

During the Crusades the Mosque became again a church guarded by the Knights of the Temple. Saladin restored it to the “faithful” Islamites. So the rock stands today the center of the Dome of the Rock, the Mosque of Omar, one of the most splendid creations of Muslim genius. For long the Arabs controlled it and after them the Turks. The struggles of the World War swirled around it. Jews and Muslims rioted below it, and the end of its story is not yet.

Cities, kingdoms, and empires have risen, flourished, fulfilled their destiny, and fallen. Religions and sects within them have come, controlled it for a time, and passed on, and today it is a sacred spot for three great religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Amid the changing centuries it has stood firm, a symbol unchanging of the Most High God.

The ideal represented by the rock, the sacred name of Deity, the principles of love, trust, and obedience it enshrines have been inherited by the modern world. The Masonic Fraternity has been in a peculiar sense the heir since it embraces within itself members of all three religions who hold the rock sacred.

What have we done with our inheritance? Like the Prodigal Son, we have “wasted it in riotous living.” Within our order we have too often forgotten that all Masonic lodges are erected to God. Masons have sought high offices for personal prestige rather than as opportunities for service. The world around us has gone far astray. The machinations of selfish interests, of particularistic isolationism, of jealousy and suspicion have torn the world asunder. Men greedy for power, military glory, or wealth have sought dominion by arms. They have tried to crush not only our order, but every organization that has stood loyally for the ancient belief in the Most High God. The Temple is today in ruins and we are in great danger of years of captivity.

The task that faces us today is like that which faced the captives in ancient Babylon. We must stand firm and loyal and rebuild the House of God. We must make the rugged journey back to the rock on Mt. Moriah. And when our task is done, we shall discover anew and reveal to the world the true Word that alone can save it from ruin. We shall enshrine above the nations the one idea upon which all the world can unite, ofbeliefin a God who demands of all men love, trust, and obedience. For then we shall truly dwell “within the shadow of a mighty Rock”!

The Masonic Service Association of North America